Meats and cheeses: Charcuterie boards, specialty boxes spike during COVID-19 'with no signs of slowing down'

Charcuterie [pronounced char·cu·te·rie], is sweeping social media and smaller family gatherings this holiday season that are constrained by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Users scrolling through Instagram, Facebook (FB), or Twitter (TWTR) are bound to see at least one friend creating their own versions — or heading to a local cheese shop to scoop up a pre-made board filled with cured meats, cheeses, and artisanal ingredients like fig jam and honeycomb.

On Google Trends, searches for “charcuterie board” are expected to reach peak level around the Christmas Holiday, spiking more than 3 times as much from last holiday season and according to Tastewise, this trend is not going away any time soon.

In its new “Top 10 US Trends: 2021” report, Tastewise stated that interest in “grazing boxes” — delivered boxes of pre-packed picnic snacks — are up a staggering 1,033% from March, “with no signs of slowing down.”

(Courtesy: Columbus® Craft Meats)
(Courtesy: Columbus® Craft Meats)

Major food brands are jumping on this trend, as well. Amazon’s Whole Foods (AMZN) brought back its “12 Days of Cheese Sale” which offered customers 50% off a different cheese each day from Dec. 12 to Dec. 23.

Earlier this month, Columbus Craft Meats, a Hormel Foods (HRL) brand, also played into this social media trend, by sharing tips on how to create winter villages entirely using their products. Recently, Hormel declared “creative charcuterie” would be one of 2021’s top food trends.

See also: Data: Foot traffic at Domino’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut tumble by more than half during COVID-19

Evan Inada, Columbus’ charcuterie and partnerships director, called this sort of creation the “perfect outlet” — especially for millennials and social media users that skew younger.

“They are at home and away from their friends and they want to have something they can maybe do online together through a Zoom,” Inada said recently.

‘The ultimate comfort food’

The Babylon Cheese Cellar opened in Babylon, New York in 2009. (COURTESY: The Babylon Cheese Cellar)
The Babylon Cheese Cellar opened in Babylon, New York in 2009. (COURTESY: The Babylon Cheese Cellar)

This viral trend is also giving small cheese shops across the country a boost this year, as many other small businesses await further stimulus money from Washington that’s meant to shore up independent entrepreneurs, as well as consumers.

Tiffany Latino, manager and creative director at The Babylon Cheese Cellar in Long Island, New York told Yahoo Finance her business saw “an uptick in demand this year as with each consecutive year.” She called cheese — one of several consumer items that have gotten a boost from pandemic buying — “the ultimate comfort food.”

Latino spent more than 15 years in luxury retail, but decided to leave the corporate world to join the business alongside her husband Anthony, who opened the shop in 2009 as a passion project after more than 20 years in wholesale food sales.

Since then, the duo’s has business tripled in popularity — and 2020 was no different, even when COVID-19 gripped the world’s economy.

According to Latino, new customers gravitated toward smaller social gatherings, at-home date nights and grazing tables for smaller events in lieu of large catering hall events. The company also remained open this year as an essential business, offering curbside pick up and in store shopping, with social distancing restrictions.

Out in COVID-19-battered California, The LC Cheese Shop located in La Cañada Flintridge, has seen a demand boost this year, thanks in large part to local support.

“We have been doing delivery only since February and have been sold out every day... sometimes weeks in advance,” Courtney Khoshafian, a third-generation La Canada resident, told Yahoo Finance. “We also deliver gourmet groceries and bakery items along with our cheeses and cheeseboards.”

Khoshafian opened LC after she decided to pursue her passion, leaving behind a corporate career where she oversaw events while managing the startup community for Runway Innovation Hub. That was the incubator inside the Twitter building.

Still, the meat and cheese entrepreneur had a warning about the temptations of social media, and the seduction of viral fame.

“‘Charcuterie board’ makers are just doing it for the art and Instagram instead of making it about the cheese and the stories the various cheeses tell,” she said.“We really want to support local farmers and tell their stories through the cheese.”

Due to the viral nature of this trend, Khoshafian said the process isn’t as easy at it might look. One-off “charcuterie board” businesses are popping up everywhere, “but 95% of them don't know about the cheeses or even have the proper facilities, health permits or food handlers training,” she explained.

“Many of them just buy cheeses from Costco (COST) and Trader Joe's and just display them on a board and try to resell,” Khoshafian added.

And cheese manufacturers are also taking note. A spokesperson at Cheese manufacturer Dorothy’s Cheese told Yahoo Finance that while they cannot speak specifically to the popularity of charcuterie, “99% of the people tagging us on Instagram are doing charcuterie boards,” using Instagram-worthy, flower-shaped Comeback Cow soft ripened cheese in their creations.

Brooke DiPalma is a producer, booker and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeDiPalma.


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